Ever since the amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1955 tabled in the Parliament, it has received widespread criticisms across all quarters from politicians to activists to common man. More than ever, Assam is burning with protests, clashes and statewide bandhs. Daily life has come to a standstill and is completely shaken with the ongoing protests that is gradually extending to the rest of the northeast region.
Citizenship is a sensitive issue in the Northeast region, especially Assam. There have been several protests in the past against the immigrant settlements from Bangladesh as the immigration from the neighbouring country alters their demography.
The Bill seeks to facilitate acquisition of citizenship by six identified minority communities namely Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who came to India before December 31, 2014. Thus, discriminating the people on who can be a citizen and who cannot, purely on the basis of religion.
This provision goes against the fundamental Right to equality as guaranteed by our Constitution. Equality forms part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India. Article 14 clearly states “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”
It aims to emphasise that even if you are a persecuted minority but as long as you are not a Hindu, then we will not welcome you or provide you the privileges that a Hindu gets. Also, the minimum residency period for citizenship is being reduced from existing 12 years under the present law to 7 years.
Such amendments against the wishes of the people of Assam is natural to create fear and panic. The overwhelming fear of the Northeast region is that, if the Bill passes, it could lead to a migration of millions of Bangladeshi Hindus to Assam.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was on a visit to Assam as part of his two-day visit to the Northeast met with angry protestors who shouted slogans and waved black flags. All Assam Students Union (AASU) members shouted slogans like ‘Go Back Modi’, ‘Scrap Citizenship Amendment Bill’, ‘Joi Aai Asom (Glory to Mother Assam)’.
Even the close allies of BJP such as Shiv Sena, JD(U), and Asom Gano Parishad (AGP) are vehemently against the bill and demanded to withdraw the controversial provisions. Inspite of the overwhelming opposition, BJP is still adamant in moving forward with the bill.
This takes us back to the most important question, that why BJP is so keen with these amendments which are totally against the constitution, and also divisive in nature. Is BJP using this as a pre-electoral sop to gain votes from Hindu migrants? Oppositions believes that the BJP-led government is using the Bill to appeal to Hindus ahead of the 2019 elections and is using the Bill for vote bank politics at the cost of the people’s welfare.
The Amendment Bill needs to go for reexamination and controversial, discriminatory provisions must be removed and make the Bill secular to its citizens irrespective of caste, creed, religion or social strata.
GR Rajesh Kumar is a practising lawyer and a director at India Justice Foundation.